Along with predictably putting up more points than the Browns on Friday night, the Cleveland Indians built up quite THE DIFF on the visiting L.A. Angels all weekend, as well, outscoring them 37-12 en route to a relatively tension-free series sweep. The Tribe is now back to its high-water mark for the season at 19 games over .500 (67-48), and boasts the best winning percentage (.583) and overall run differential (+105) in the American League. Incredibly, that DIFF is a full 106 runs better than the league’s new critical darlings, the Texas Rangers (-1).
The last time Cleveland completed a four-game sweep of the California-Anaheim-LA Angels of Orange County was way back in 1999—pre Rally Monkey, post J.T. Snow. The winning pitcher that day, appropriately enough, was current Halos pitching coach Charlie Nagy, who certainly must be thinking he could go out there and throw at least as well as Jered Weaver right now.
The Chuckster isn’t the only element of symmetry between this series and the one 17 years ago. Both versions of the Indians were in first place with a red-hot hitter named Ramirez leading the way; both versions of the Angels were in the midst of a 9-game losing streak; and both Anaheim outfields were anchored by a guy with a fish name.
Here are some additional random thoughts from an enjoyably non-competitive weekend.
Thieving Like It’s 1917
Only in baseball can you regularly use the phrase, “a 99 year-old franchise record.” The Indians embarrassed Angels starter Tyler Skaggs and catcher Geovany Soto on Friday by stealing eight bases in one game (3 for Rajai, 3 for J-Ram, and 1 each for Lindor and Kipnis). The last time that happened, as you may have heard, was also in August. . . during World War I. Actually, it was just known as “The Great War” at the time cuz they hadn’t really started counting horribly destructive global conflicts yet. The Indians home of League Park also had a different name back then, as new owner “Sunny Jim” Dunn had briefly rechristened it “Dunn Field.”
In any case, Indians speedster Braggo Roth was the main contributor to that original steals record on August 27, 1917, swiping four bags. Joe Harris added a pair and Tris Speaker and Bill “Unassisted Triple Play” Wambsganss each nabbed one. The quirkiest thing about this feat was that the Indians’ leader in steals that season, shortstop Ray Chapman (52 SB on the year), didn’t contribute to the record. I guess karma would catch up to him for that (ugh, too soon?). Meanwhile, Cleveland still managed to lose that game to the Washington Senators, as both teams replaced their bum starting pitchers with Hall of Famers out of the bullpen. In the end, Walter Johnson (5 IP, 1 ER) got the best of Stan Coveleski (4 IP, 1 ER) in an 11-9 Washington win.
Jose Ramirez: Your “2016 MVP… Of the Moment”
If there’s any solid evidence as to why no Cleveland Indian will be a top three finisher in AL MVP voting this year, it’s that Indians fans themselves seem unable to come to any sort of consensus on who has meant the most to the team’s success this year. With the entire offense (except catchers, obv), the back end of the bullpen, and Corey Kluber all reaching performance high-points right now, you could make a valid case for nearly a half dozen players.
Francisco Lindor remains the most obvious choice, thanks to his remarkable consistency, the position he plays, and essentially taking over Michael Brantley’s role in the heart of the order. But the guys surrounding him in the line-up—Jason Kipnis, Mike Napoli, and Jose Ramirez—are all destroying the baseball right now. Kip is in one of his unconscious, opposite-field gap modes, and his .852 OPS is 40 points higher than Lindor’s on the year. Napoli’s OPS is even higher than Kip’s now (.876) and he’s hitting over .420 during his current 14-game hit streak, suddenly raising his season average to .265. And then there’s the increasingly unbelievable J-Ram. Along with making a couple outstanding plays at third base and running wild on the bases, he remains the hottest hitter in MLB, to boot. His 18-game hitting streak is the third longest in baseball this season (at the Big League level at least), he’s 14-for-28 in the past week, and he’s hitting .356 over his last 30 games, moving him into second place in the AL batting race at .314 (albeit a hair behind Jose Altuve’s .362). Bored by archaic baseball card stats? Well, Jose also has a 124 wRC+, ranking him ahead of the far more heralded Lindor (119) and Xander Bogaerts (120). But then again, Kipnis (127) and Napoli (134) are even better still.
This isn’t even giving any time to the smaller MVP camps still backing Carlos Santana’s fine work, or Kluber’s Cy Young caliber season, or Tyler Naquin’s miraculous resolution to the Brantley conundrum. These are the sorts of debates you would have been hearing in Kansas City last year, and it bodes pretty well for the overall composition of this club heading into October [Surgeon General’s Warning: The Indians have NOT clinched a playoff spot].
In honor of the multiple weather delays endured in the Angels series, I’m going to rain on the parade now a bit with this thought: With news that Michael Brantley’s season is finally, officially done. . . can you see his absence in the 2016 playoffs being remembered much like Cliff Lee’s absence in 2007? The circumstances are quite different. Lee wasn’t hurt; he’d simply forgotten how to pitch that summer and was left off the postseason roster. Of course, he then regained his form to the tune of a Cy Young award the next season, leaving many to wonder if having a fully functioning Cliff Lee to pair with CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona might have prevented the Indians’ collapse in the ’07 ALCS. If the Tribe offense falters this season in October [Surgeon General’s Warning: I repeat, the Indians have NOT clinched a playoff spot], it’s not hard to imagine people playing the “What If” game again about missing Brantley. Of course, I could get even more depressing and question whether Michael will ever regain his old form at all, but we’ll shelve that for now.
While J-Ram and Napoli still have their hit streaks going, Francisco Mejia’s ridiculous 50-game streak is now as over as Michael Brantley’s season. It’s probably fair to say that Mejia didn’t get anywhere near the attention his accomplishment probably warranted. Single-A Lynchburg is perhaps just a wee bit too far off the radar to entice the gaze of the nation. As for those saying “it’s just the Minors,” however, only 15 Minor Leaguers at any level have managed even a 40-game streak in recorded history, so this isn’t exactly just another typical day on the farm. In Major League history, only TEN players have ever managed better that a 35 game streak, which makes Sandy Alomar’s 30-game run in 1997 all the more impressive (Nap Lajoie has the franchise record for 31 in 1906, but that’s when they played with literal balls of yarn).
My favorite under-reported component of the Mejia story—besides the fact that Jonathan Lucroy personally kept the kid in the Indians organization—is the name he was chasing on the all-time Minor League hit streak list. I’m not talking about Joe Wilhoit, whose all-time 69-game record from 1919 was achieved as a 33 year-old on the downside of his pro career. And no, this isn’t about Joltin’ Joe either, who famously had a 61 game streak as a San Francisco Seal in 1933, a fine pairing with his MLB 56-game record. The guy who is actually directly in front of Francisco Mejia now in Minor League hit streak history is, and maybe forever will be, a fellow named Roman Mejias, who had a 55-game streak in 1954. Yes, Roman MEJIAS.
Now I’m not going to pretend that “Mejia” or “Mejias” are highly unusual names in Latin America. There have been well over 100 Minor League players with the name, and six Major Leaguers. But the odds of a Mejias and a Mejia ranking No. 3 and No. 4 in the history of Hit Streaks are not exactly good.
In any case, Francisco Mejia wouldn’t do horribly by continuing to follow Roman Mejias’ example. After his streak in ’54, the Cuban outfielder went on to play parts of nine years in the Bigs, including a 24 homerun season for the Houston Colt 45s in 1962. His longest MLB hit streak, achieved that same season, was 16 games.
On second thought, though, Roman Mejias was really little more than a bench player for most of his career, and in the wake of the Lucroy fallout and this crazy hit streak, I think the Indians might have slightly higher expectations than that for Francisco Mejia. Come 2018, this guy might finally be getting the sort of wider attention he should have been receiving the past two months.
Jonathan Lucroy Vey Iz Mir
Meanwhile, since the devil was mentioned, he’s already hit 6 homers as a Ranger, but Texas is just 7-6 since the trade was made. The Indians have the same record over that span and lead the league with 73 runs scored over the period. The jury is in! We don’t need that guy at all! [Surgeon General’s Warning: Do Not Look at the Offensive Output of the Cleveland Indians Catchers. Doing so Presents a Serious and Immediate Risk to the Viewer].